Margins widen, viewership increases as ELF wraps up Week 5

This week, all the talk in the European League of Football was about All-Star games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an all-star slate of matchups on the field.

As might have been predicted in a brand new eight-team league, those organizations with the most experience together — either through the date of their founding, being chosen from another league, or having their roster plucked wholesale from a GFL squad — have risen to the top. In Week 5, all three of those top franchises walked to easy victories over their less-matured ELF brethren.

That did little to dim the enthusiasm for the league, with ProSieben MAXX announcing 3.8% market share in the important 14-49 demographic for the game of the week between Berlin and Wroclaw, working out to an average of 110,000 viewers and a new record for the ELF. With that success in mind, here are my thoughts on the week.

Game 1 – Frankfurt Galaxy 44 Barcelona Dragons 22

Barcelona Dragons QB Zach Edwards powering forward against the Frankfurt Galaxy Photo: Eric Ribé

If you are the type to look for moral victories and silver linings, Saturday’s unsurprising 22-point loss by the Barcelona Dragons was perhaps the best game the Spanish team has played all season. The flipside is it demonstrates just how stark the difference is between a previously established big market team like the Galaxy and those the ELF has created.

Spain is a nation with more than enough talent to support the Dragons, but until every top Spaniard is wearing that jersey, depth will be an issue and size may always prove to be. As it stands right now, a dog-tired defense makes far too many mistakes despite fighting to the very end and it is too easy to take away entire elements of their offense.

Frankfurt Galaxy RB Justin Rodney #33 gaining yards against Barcelona Dragons Photo: Alex Stolle

Zach Edwards continues to be one of the league’s most exciting quarterbacks, despite once again being sacked eight times behind an offensive line that lost coach Ron Smeltzer this week, but the burden of the offense rests on his shoulders entirely. Collectively, Barcelona’s running backs carried ten times for a whopping 14 yards and without the ability to generate any sort of run game, the well-disciplined Galaxy defense knew exactly what their opponent was doing. Both Mario Flores and Remi Bertellin posted big plays, but American Jean Constant was held in check despite another hundred-yard outing. That is a testament to Frankfurt corner Omari Williams, who held him to less than 10 yards per catch in a terrific performance.

There will be plays in this one that Galaxy QB Jakeb Sullivan wants back, particularly some fourth-quarter picks that will get Andy Vera on the highlight reel, but he didn’t have to be perfect in this one. A big day from Nico Strahmann, seven different receivers notching first downs, and easy running from backs Gerard Ameln and Justin Rodney made the game plan go off without a hitch.

Game 2 – Wroclaw Panthers 45 – Berlin Thunder 26

Wroclaw Panthers offensive line gets set against Berlin Thunder Dline Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

The mark of a good team is how they bounce back from a tough loss. The Wroclaw Panthers had all bye week to think about the mistakes that saw them get upset by the Frankfurt Galaxy in a rainy road game, but they returned to the field in Berlin looking like the same crisp, unstoppable machine that shocked everyone the first few weeks.

What makes the Panthers special is their depth of talent, especially on the national side of things. Dealing with their all-Polish receiving corps is like playing wack-a-mole, there will always be one guy open and this week it was Przemyslaw Banat who stepped up. A stellar offensive line means that Damian Kwiatkowski can take a bigger role and slice you up just as bad as Phileas Pasqualini, while Mark Herndon keeps running straight through your face.

Defensively, nine different players made a stop in the backfield, and were it not for a single bad angle taken by Daniel Piatkowski on his 83-yard touchdown, talented American receiver Seantarrius Jones might not have merited mention in this recap. From William Lloyd and Darius Robinson, to Goran Zec and Hubert Ogrodowczyk, it is a defensive group full of standouts and it got better with the addition of Frenchman Pierre Courageux this week. Despite Joc Crawford scoring three touchdowns, that group still held him to 3.2 yards per carry and 20 of Berlin’s points came while the game was already put away in the fourth quarter.

Partially because of that defense, Thunder quarterback Calvin Stitt had a poor day at the office. He completed just 9 of 25 passes for 170 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Almost half of that yardage came on one throw late in the game. The Brit’s escapability has been crucial all season for a Berlin team struggling to protect, but his scattershot accuracy is starting to pose a problem. Those two things are linked, but Stitt is under 50 percent on the season and needs to be a lot better if the Thunder are ever expected to reach their potential.

Game 3 – Hamburg Sea Devils 55 – Leipzig Kings 0

Hamburg Sea Devils RB Xavier Johnson (24) takes off against Leipzig Kings at Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark, Leipzig, Germany, July 18, 2021. (Photo by Mikkel Bo Rasmussen / 1st Down Photo)

The Leipzig Kings have enough firepower on their roster that if you give them any glimmer of hope, they’ll fight until the last play. The Hamburg Sea Devils never afforded them an inch of space to work with on offense, let alone that glimmer of hope. Despite their best efforts, a beat-up Kings team was done by halftime.

Fifty five-point blowouts are hard to come by in football and even rarer when your starting quarterback only throws for 81 yards. Hamburg is just that good. Offensively, they played it safe and effective by attacking Leipzig’s weakness against the run and Xavier Johnson was good for a first down per carry in a 150-yard outing. That almost became an afterthought, because their defense was simply spectacular.

Germany’s career NFL sack leader Kasim Edebali still wasn’t cleared to play, but eight total sacks and an incredible 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage by the Sea Devils proves that didn’t matter. The two forced fumbles, two interceptions and defensive score from Evans Yeboah were just for decoration. At this stage, that defense makes Hamburg the best team in the league and their test next week against the Panthers will be monumental.

Hamburg Sea Devils LB Giovanni Nanguy (56) chases down Leipzig Kings QB Jaleel Awini (12) against Hamburg Sea Devils at Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark, Leipzig, Germany, July 18, 2021. (Photo by Mikkel Bo Rasmussen / 1st Down Photo)

Jan-Phillip Bombek continues to be a game-changer on that side of the ball, but it is corner Justin Rogers who took home MVP honors this week. Twice he seemed to break through a tackle from every member of the Leipzig punt unit on his way for punt return scores and a spectacular interception was the cherry on top. It seems even though fired head coach Ted Daisher isn’t with the team anymore, the man who once coached Josh Cribbs and Desean Jackson delivered on his promise to find an electric specialist.

Assembled just nine weeks ago, the Kings enter a badly needed bye week. Depth was always going to be the challenge for new ELF teams and injuries have mounted quickly in Leipzig to expose their holes.  A chance to regroup and the return of starting quarterback Michael Birdsong is just what the doctor ordered. They’ll get both before they face their next opponent.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.